After cutting payroll by almost exactly 20m from 81m in 2009 to 61m in 2010, it appears they'll do so again in 2011. Paul Hoynes is reporting that;
"Just how much money the Indians can spend on players has yet to be determined, but the payroll will drop from $61.5 million at the start of last season to between $40 million and $50 million."
Earlier this week, I made my first payroll projection for the 2011 Indians and had them at a division low 41.35m after arbitration raises are factored in. While Hoynes notes that there is no clear indication of how much room GM Chris Antonetti - entering his first full off season - will have to spend, it's clear that it likely wont be much more than about 9.5m, if my payroll calculations are correct. It could also be a fair amount less if Shin-Soo Choo ends up making more than 3.0m I have him pegged for in arbitration, or the final figure is closer to, say, 45m than 50m.
With that in mind, the Indians will be left in a position where they will be forced to either go into 2011 with little change from the roster currently in place - one that includes five players who project as regulars that posted OPS marks of .705 or lower in 2010. Yikes.
The payroll cut is likely at least partially the result of continued plummeting attendance as the Indians have seen attendance fall from just 28,097 per game during their 96 win 2007 season, to just 17,180 last year as the team experienced it's second straight season with fewer than 70 wins. With attendance down by 39%, a drop in payroll to 50m would be almost exactly on line (38.5%). Obviously also influential would be the corresponding loss of revenue from concessions and merchandise, amongst other factors.
Ultimately, this leads to a discussion of how winning effects revenues, and perhaps more importantly, precisely how cost-effective salary cutting measures such as trading star players (Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia) as they become more expensive really are. But that's a discussion (both interesting and important) for another day.
What needs to be focused on now is precisely how the Indians will try and address their many weaknesses during the 2010-2011 off season. The team could stand to have more reliable options at first (where Matt LaPorta will be given every chance to become a fixture), second, third, and left field. On the mound, they need a legitimate ace and a solid innings eater. The bullpen could use a reliable right-handed setup option. But other than that...
Obviously it'll be far beyond the capacities of Mr. Antonetti to address all these concerns, but how he goes about it should be interesting. The Indians made a nice play by pulling Austin Kearns off the scrap hep last year, but they'd need to make many more this off season, and do so with far less room to operate. Will the Indians stick with the players they have and try and make a few savvy acquisitions? Or will they perhaps try and make a trade to clear salary or further their rebuilding efforts?
We won't know, and I'm not going to use this particular piece for speculation, but we'll find out a lot about how Antonetti and the rest of the Indians management feel about the players they have in place and how much work they still think they need to do.